Getting Better by Making Multiples

I recall hearing somewhere (can't remember where) that a good way to get better at woodworking was to make two of an item, instead of just one.  When I was a hobbyist, I only had to concern myself with making a project once.  Now that i'm getting into professional work, learning how to make multiples becomes so much more important.  What's different when you make several of an item and what do you learn?  Well, many things change, some tangible and others less so.  Plus, I figure if making two of an item is good, then 4 or 6 of something must be great, right?

For starters, and this is probably the biggest change, you have to start thinking as much about the process as you do the piece.  Making multiples with any sort of speed means you have to get efficient.  So, you must get better at both planning and execution.  The plan will tell you how much stock you need, what cuts you need and drive the order of operations.  I don't want to go into milling and sizing first, that's pretty well known.  You will learn that during milling you must think about finishing, though.  Do you pre-sand or finish certain parts to ease the process?  How will you move about the shop to complete activities?  Where will you put parts that are in mid-stage?  All these activities are suddenly important.  This may sound strange, but when you aren't actively thinking about how to stage things in your shop (because it's second nature, or written down!) you are then putting more thought into technique and skill!

When you make several of something, you can more easily see where errors are finding their way into the process.  Perhaps your very slightly out of square table saw sled is no problem for one piece because you easily straighten the edge with a plane. When you have to straighten 20 edges fixing the sled is now important.  Perhaps you start standardizing your countersink bits to common screw sizes so you can't accidentally drill too deep.  Using 4 or 5 different measuring devices - yep that can cause errors.  I'm sure you can find more errors to correct, we all have plenty.

You find that jigs reach a new level of importance when making multiples.  Jigs let you work quickly, accurately and safely.  Plus, they can let you do things perhaps impossible any other way.  Always making a 22 1/2 deg cut and don't want to change the miter gauge - jig.  Hinge mortising - jig.  Sloping grooves with a router - jig.  Getting the perfect pour - ok, maybe not that one.  If you need to do something more than once with repeatable accuracy a jig is a good idea.

Finally, when you are using your woodworking skills, you are using them a lot and all at once.  When you make multiples you get the benefits of repetition.  Dovetail 5 boxes and I'm sure you'll be better on #5 than on #1.  Setting up that box joint jig is second nature after you've done it 25 times and made 100 boxes.  Regularly sharpening your chisels gets easy when you incorporate fast touchups into your process.  Once you're current set of skills is old hat, guess what, now you can learn more.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope gives you good incentive to go and try doing some multiples, if you haven't already.  Know of more benefits I didn't list, feel free to comment.  I'd love to hear what others do and what they've learned.



Never Ending Shop Changes

Working in a 1 car garage that's been turned into a wood shop is often not easy.  Space continues to exist as a commodity item.  Several years I purchased a Jet cabinet saw with the nice long 50" rails.  It was pretty nice.  I could put a whole sheet of plywood on that.  I had this big table that was also a nice assembly area.

But ...  There's always a but isn't there.  It's one thing to have a saw you can put a whole sheet of plywood on.  It's another thing to actually have the room to lift the sheet onto the saw and make a full cut.  I'd run into the problem of not having enough in feed or out feed room.  And then there came the need for more space.  

I had to keep the saw arranged lengthwise in the garage.  That meant my out feed couldn't be out through the garage door.  If I tried to turn the saw crosswise the rails were so long it was hard to walk by - and still have machines along the walls.

So, I purchased the 30" rail kit (not much, about $170 USD) and swapped out the long rails.  Why not just cut the rails?  Well, if I do end up moving in the future to a larger shop I will probably put the long rails back on.  With the short rails I can easily turn the saw width wise in the garage with plenty of room to get around.  Plus, since I'm doing smaller work these days the long rails never were necessary - I just don't cut anything that big anymore.

So, I have more floor space, it's easier to walk around, I can still do all my normal work and I don't need the extra legs to hold up the table (and lose valuable storage!).  I guess sometimes downsizing is a win (well, except for when it happens to you - and it did happen to me).

Of course now I need to get some new dust collector hose because what I had doesn't reach the saw now that I moved it.  It never ends.

Amidst all the shop changes I also somehow managed to finish the puzzle boxes and the linkage hinge boxes.  More posts about those are upcoming, along with new work.  Now that I have some more space I'm eager to put it to work. 

Putting the Hinge Mortise Jig to Work

Building a hinge mortise jig was a great idea.  I'm not that great at getting the layout, cutting and alignment done just perfect so that when you put in all the screws the top lines up with the body.  Plus, it's fiddly work that can take a long time to do even one box.  With a jig, though, wow, layout is fast, every cut is straight and even and alignment is spot on.

It's just a few steps to set up, then everything is easy

  • Scribe a line on the top of bottom marking one end of each hinge.  Yep, just one is all you need.  I like to set the top on some blocks in it's open position and mark both at once
  • Use the jig to set the width of the hinge - easily done by putting the hinge in the opening and adjusting the side sliders
  • Set the depth of the hinge - done by putting the hinge on the reference mark on the slider (you can see the scratched lines on the aluminum bar) and adjusting that stop.
  • Set the height of the hinge - I use a scrap piece of the same wood as the jig, set that on the router along with the hinge leaf and adjust the bit till it's a hair proud
  • Put the fully adjusted jig on the workpiece, align the edge with your reference marks (made early), clamp it down and rout away (It's a good idea to rout in slightly on the right hand side, then back out and rout from the left in a clockwise direction.  This helps avoid tearout on the right when you exit the cut.
  • If all your hinges are the same, plus reposition and keep routing.  They will all be the exact same and nice and square.

I did all 4 puzzles boxes in about 2 hours.  While that might still seem long, I would have been lucky to finish one box per evening if working by hand plus I would have fought alignment issues along the way.

Now, what's next?


Organizing the Organizers

I spent a week away for work (training down in Ga, yay - got to see all my colleagues and have some fun at night!) which certainly cut into my shop time.  If I can't get in the shop (because I'm several states away) then it's kinda hard to work.  Fortunately, I'm home again and I can get back to work.

I seem to suddenly have many projects going at once.  We were out in town and I had the chance to pick up a sheet of plywood which meant my next job was the shelving unit for the small parts holders.

This went together fairly fast, just two weekend afternoons (with appropriate breaks and random bouts of walking around plus listening to podcasts).  It's just a  3/4" birch ply shell with 3/16" shelves.  The shelves seemed a bit thin but I don't see any problems.  I left room for 2 more small cases and 3 more large ones.  I made the case to slide into an existing cart.  I made the fit tighter than I wanted so a little "encouragement" was needed to slide it into place.  I won't say it's perfect (by any stretch) but it uses existing space, is better than what I had and has room for expansion.  When it comes to shop furniture, perfection isn't usually necessary.

I have most of the cases full and I still have some random containers of things.  I'm already liking having my little bits of things sorted.  I've even found a lot of items I didn't know I had.  I'll need to get a labeler at some point and put labels on the handles for easier searching.  However, some containers will likely be a bit random.  I'm not too insistent on organizing every last piece and I will have some containers with a bin of "random sized machine screws" just because it's not worth sorting them when I might have one of several sizes.  Sort the important stuff (wood screws!) and at least keep the rest contained and find-able.

There's still a tool rack to finish.  I have to order the shorter rails for the table saw.  I have 4 puzzle boxes near completion (i.e. sell-able!) and another 4 linkage hinge boxes almost ready to finish.  Then there's whatever is next!  Hopefully some more videos to come over on my Youtube channel as well ( )

Need a Tool Rack? Just Add Wood

Really, that's all you have to do.  Once you start to have some lumber stacked up and a pile of tools at your disposal plus an even partial level of knowledge in how to use it all, things get easy.  Well, easier.  I've had 3-4 different places that my general hand tools are kept.  This is everything from chisels to awls, squares, rulers, dividers, screw drivers, etc.  I'd been wanting to do something about that.

Not long ago I watched a video series on 5S is the shop.  It was about how to apply the 5S methodology first developed in the automotive industry to your own shop. Some primary tenets of the method are that your things are organized, most commonly used tools are the closest and items are always put away clean and ready for the next use. I knew that having one, good, solid place to keep my tools was necessary.  

Thinking about this is when I realized my tools were a mess and jumbled because I had no good place to always keep them.  It should be much easier to always replace a tool when doing so means little more than turning slightly.  This tool rack will hang near my bench, probably almost within arms reach.  My hope is to never leave the bench covered with tools.  The evenings I've put away my tools and swept off the bench really did make it easier to get back to work the next day.  Everything was just ready to go.

Now, can I go the next step to clean and sharpen every tool before it's put away?

This tool rack is currently quite a bit bigger than I need.  The slot for storing the tools is about 48".  The top is 52" long and 10" deep.  I will add pegs to the front and quite likely a row of small dowels along the bottom (great for small items!).  I made the gap for the tools a bit over 9/16" which fits a variety of my tools.  A few can fall this gap, but I knew that.  This is all oak - it was bits and pieces I've had around for way too long.  The top has a hole part way through and a big blue stain (when metal is driven in live oak, that's what happens) so I figured it's work fine here.  Coming up, I need to make some additions so we know this belongs to Cryptic Woodworks!